Perfectly ripe, round tomatoes are the secret of an almost effortless summer meal. Chopped fresh from the garden and tossed with cooked pasta, a handful of fresh herbs, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, raw tomatoes make marvelous – and incredibly easy – pasta dishes. In fact, some of the best pasta sauces I’ve ever tasted were made with uncooked tomatoes.

With their balance of sweetness and acidity, raw tomato sauces preserve all the nuances in the flavor of fresh tomatoes as well as their cancer-fighting properties. The carotenoids lycopene and lutein found in abundance in red tomatoes are linked to lower rates of lung and prostate cancer. And good news for the busy summer cook. The following ten sauces require only one pot (for the pasta) and can be ready to serve in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.

The tricks are simple. Raw sauces, using ripe, round tomatoes (usually called beefsteak tomatoes), arugula, cucumber, and avocado, are heated through when tossed with drained pasta. Arugula, for instance, wilts and softens on contact with hot pasta. The addition of some crunchy cucumber, along with a little olive oil and mint, makes a great sauce for pasta shells. Likewise, juicy summer tomatoes enlivened with a green olive puree (nothing more than pitted olives, shallots, thyme, and oil) make a pungent raw sauce for spaghetti.

The other secret to no-cook summer pasta sauces is to add a quick-cooking green vegetable to the pasta pot. For instance, when fettuccine noodles are almost done, add several handfuls of sliced asparagus and continue cooking for one and one half minutes more. Drain the pasta and asparagus together and then toss them with some orange-flavored oil. You can turn green beans and spinach into quick pasta sauces in the same manner, without having to heat up a completely separate pot for cooking the vegetable.

Most of the dishes that follow are served warm although some can be eaten at room temperature (see individual recipes). Two Asian noodle dishes are served slightly chilled because the noodles are rinsed under cold water after cooking. (Regular Italian pasta suffers from rinsing, but Asian noodles made from rice or buckwheat are so starchy that they need to be rinsed before saucing.) The following recipes will yield four generous main course servings or six appetizer portions.

SPAGHETTI WITH RAW TOMATOES AND GREEN OLIVE PASTE

Serves 4

A pungent green olive paste flavored with shallot and thyme enlivens a simple raw tomato sauce. Choose large green olives, such as Sicilian Colossals, for this recipe.

  • 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 20 large green olives (about 5 ounces), pitted
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Core and cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Place in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Set aside.

3. Place olives, shallot, and thyme in food processor (or blender). Pulse, scraping down sides as needed, until ingredients are chopped fine. With motor running, slowly pour oil through feed tube and process until smooth.

4. Scrape olive paste into bowl with tomatoes. Toss gently and add salt and pepper to taste. (If olives are salty, you may not need much salt.)

5. While preparing sauce, add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain and mix well with sauce. Transfer to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

SOBA NOODLES WITH SPICY SESAME SAUCE

Serves 4

Cucumber, bean sprouts, and scallions add crunch and color to this Asian-inspired pasta dish, which is served lightly chilled. Bright red, Asian hot chile oil is the authentic way, to add heat to this dish, but you may use any hot sauce, including Tabasco. Because hot sauces differ in intensity, you may need to adjust the amount.

  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons Asian hot chile oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 pound soba noodles (buckwheat pasta)
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 medium scallions, white and light green parts cut into thin rings

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Place tahini, juice, soy sauce, and both oils in food processor (or blender). Process until smooth. Adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary. Set aside. (Can be refrigerated up to 4 hours.)

3. Peel and halve cucumber lengthwise. Use small spoon to scoop out seeds. Cut cucumber into very thin 1-inch-long strips. Set aside.

4. Add noodles and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold, running water. Drain again well. Toss noodles, sauce, cucumber, sprouts, and scallions in large bowl. Mix well and transfer to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately.

FUSILLI WITH RAW TOMATO SAUCE, MEXICAN STYLE

Serves 4

Raw tomatoes and avocado are flavored with garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and jalapeno for this Mexican-inspired sauce. Since ripe avocado is so soft, it is spooned over the bowls of pasta and not tossed with the tomato mixture. Preparing the avocado garnish while the pasta is cooking also ensures that it won’t turn brown before you are ready to bring the bowls of pasta to the table.

  • 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 small jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound fusilli
  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot for cooking pasta.

2. Core and cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Place tomatoes in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Add garlic, cilantro, chile, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently and adjust seasonings. Set bowl aside.

3. Add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook pasta until al dente.

4. While pasta is cooking, peel and pit avocado. Cut avocado into 1/4-inch dice and toss in small bowl with lime juice.

5. Drain pasta and toss with tomato mixture. Mix well and transfer portions to individual pasta bowls. Spoon some avocado over each bowl and serve immediately.

PENNE WITH GREEN BEANS AND PESTO

Serves 4

Green beans are often dressed with pesto in northern Italy and served as a simple summer side dish. Here, this combination is used to sauce tubular pasta. Very thin, tender haricots verts will be sufficiently softened after just one minute of cooking with the pasta. If only regular green beans are available, cut them into one-inch lengths and cook them for two minutes with the pasta.

  • 1 pound haricots verts (see note, above)
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound penne or ziti

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Snap ends from beans and cut longer beans in half. Set aside.

3. Place basil, garlic, and nuts in food processor (or blender). Pulse, scraping down sides as needed, until ingredients are ground fine. With motor running, slowly pour oil through feed tube and process until smooth.

4. Scrape pesto in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

5. While preparing sauce, add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until almost al dente. Add beans and continue cooking 1 minute. Drain and mix well with pesto. Transfer to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

LINGUINE WITH MARINATED OLIVES AND FRESH HERBS

Serves 4

Choose a variety of olives (both in terms of color and size) and fresh herbs for this sauce. The mixed olive selection at a good gourmet or health foods store is the easiest way to buy several kinds of olives at once. As for herbs, basil may be used in place of the mint, and oregano makes a good substitute for the thyme.

  • 1/2 pound mixed olives (see note, above), pitted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 pound linguine

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Place olives, capers, garlic, and herbs in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Drizzle with oil and toss gently. Add salt to taste. (Olives and capers can be quite salty, so you may need very little.) Set aside at least 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. (Can be kept at room temperature 2 hours.)

3. Add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain and mix well with olive mixture. Transfer portions to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

SPAGHETTI WITH SPINACH AND TOASTED BREAD CRUMBS

Serves 4

In southern regions of Italy, bread crumbs are often used in place of grated cheese to perk up simple pasta dishes. Homemade crumbs, made by grinding fresh or stale bread in a food processor, are best. However, commercial plain bread crumbs will be fine, especially when toasted to bring out their flavor. The spinach is added to the pot with the pasta and cooks in less than two minutes.

  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach
  • 1 pound spaghetti

1. Bring 6 quarts water to boil in very large pot.

2. Set small skillet over medium heat. Add crumbs and toast, shaking pan occasionally, until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not let crumbs burn. Set aside in small bowl.

3. Combine oil, pepper flakes, and 2/3 teaspoon salt in another small bowl. Set aside.

4. Stem and wash spinach until leaves are free of grit. Shake off excess water.

5. Add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until almost al dente. Add spinach, stir well to submerge leaves in water, and continue cooking 1 1/2 minutes. Drain and mix well with oil mixture. Transfer to individual pasta bowls. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and serve immediately.

THAI RICE NOODLES WITH CABBAGE, CARROTS, AND CHILE

Serves 4

This refreshing, Asian-inspired, cold pasta dish packs plenty of chile heat. The soy sauce and salt in this recipe will cause the cabbage and carrots to soften nicely. Look for thin rice noodles, also called rice sticks, in Asian markets, gourmet stores, and well-stocked health foods stores and supermarkets.

  • 12 ounces thin rice noodles
  • 4 cups fine-shredded Napa cabbage
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 3 tablespoons, shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh mint leaves
  • 1 small Thai red chile or jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted peanuts

1. Place noodles in large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak 15 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Combine cabbage, carrots, basil, mint, and chile in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Drizzle with oil, juice, and soy sauce. Toss well and add salt to taste. Set aside at least 10 minutes.

3. Drain noodles, add salt and desired to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold, running water. Drain again well. Mix well with vegetable mixture and transfer portions to individual pasta bowls. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve immediately.

FETTUCCINE WITH ASPARAGUS AND ORANGE SAUCE

Serves 4

Freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest spark a quick asparagus sauce. Choose asparagus that are no thicker than your pinkie for this recipe.

  • 1 1/4 pounds asparagus
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 1 large orange
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound fettuccine

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Snap off tough ends from asparagus. Cut spears in half lengthwise (thicker spears should be quartered), then slice diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

3. Combine shallot, mint, zest, and juice as well as salt and pepper to taste in medium bowl. Slowly whisk in oil until smooth. Adjust seasonings. Set aside.

4. While preparing sauce, add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until almost al dente. Add asparagus and continue cooking 1 1/2 minutes. Drain and mix well with oil mixture. Transfer portions to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately.

LINGUINE WITH SPICY RAW TOMATO SAUCE AND HERBS

Serves 4

Hot red pepper flakes and a selection of fresh herbs are all that are needed to turn perfectly ripe summer tomatoes into a quick sauce for pasta. Use more of milder herbs like parsley, basil, mint, and chives and less of stronger herbs like oregano, thyme, and marjoram. Small leaves can be left whole; mince or tear larger leaves.

  • 4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs (see note, above)
  • Hot red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound linguine

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Core and cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Place in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta. Add herbs, 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes (or to taste), and salt to taste. Drizzle with oil and toss gently. Adjust seasonings.

3. Add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook until al dente. Drain and mix well with tomato mixture. Transfer portions to individual pasta bowls. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

SHELLS WITH ARUGULA, CUCUMBER AND MINT

Serves 4

The small shell-shaped pasta traps pieces of this raw sauce. The arugula wilts on contact with the hot pasta while the cucumber softens slightly but still retains its crunch.

  • 2 bunches arugula (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh mint or basil leaves
  • 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound small pasta shells

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Stem, wash, and dry arugula. Chop coarse and place in bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta.

3. Peel and halve cucumber. Use small spoon to scoop out seeds. Chop cucumber into 1/4-inch dice. Add cucumber, mint or basil, and oil as well as salt and pepper to taste to arugula. Mix well and adjust seasonings.

4. Add pasta and salt as desired to boiling water. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and mix well with arugula sauce until arugula wilts, about 30 seconds. Transfer portions to individual pasta bowls and serve immediately.

Choosing the Right Tomato

Raw sauces demand only the ripest fresh tomatoes. That’s why I wait until summer, when fresh round tomatoes (often called beefsteaks because they are so meaty) are in season, to make raw tomato sauces. Oblong plum tomatoes, which are available year-round, can be used in place of larger round tomatoes, but the results are not quite the same. Summer tomatoes are much more juicy and generally sweeter than plum tomatoes.

That’s not to say that round tomatoes are always better than plum tomatoes. Starting in October or November right through to June or July, plum tomatoes are the better option in most parts of the country. (The exceptions are warm weather growing regions like Florida or California). For right now, use round tomatoes raw and save plum tomatoes for making lightly cooked tomato sauces later this fall. Whichever variety you buy, avoid any tomatoes that have been refrigerated. Cold temperatures ruin tomato flavor and texture. Likewise, store tomatoes at room temperature in your kitchen. When you’re ready to use them, rinse tomatoes thoroughly in water that is room temperature.

Canned tomatoes should be used in cooked pasta sauces. Whole, peeled tomatoes must be chopped and then simmered for at least fifteen or twenty minutes until they soften up. They turn out chunkier sauces with distinct pieces of tomato. Smooth sauces made from crushed tomatoes are good for lasagne or other dishes in which tomato sauce is an ingredient. Over pasta, I prefer a somewhat chunkier sauce made from canned whole tomatoes. Whole tomatoes come packed in either tomato juice or tomato puree. For a plain tomato sauce, I like tomatoes packed in puree. They produce an especially thick, full-flavored sauce. However, when adding canned tomatoes to sauces with other vegetables (like mushrooms, zucchini, or eggplant), I prefer tomatoes packed in their own juice. In fact, I often use a little of the juice as a cooking medium for the vegetables.

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